Friday, June 27, 2014

Anne-Marie Slaughter Leans Back on Women

Anne-Marie Slaughter relates a very well-reasoned concern about the exhortation to women You can do it, which is a `Lean In message from Sheryl Sandberg.  The Atlantic article that interviewer Leigh Gallagher launched into from get-go is Why Women Still Can't Have It All?  The controversy that Slaughter sparked unfortunately pitted her against Sandberg, ideologically and emotionally, too, no doubt.  So I was glad to hear her clarify her overall message, and to hear an audience member say that the two prominent ladies are more alike than not.  Gallagher seemed ready to pounce on Slaughter, but to her credit she bit her tongue, instead.

For one, the You can do it mindset is emblematic of Western culture.  It filters into our day to day lives, that is, our social media Timelines, as Nothing is impossible or I'm possible.  The fact is, there are far more things that are impossible for us to ever do than there are possible things.  If such messages truly inspire people to raise their achievement, realize their dream, and gain satisfaction in whatever aspects of their lives, then they're perfect, in my book.  For others, however, they fall into a dour bucket of feeling like failures, as Slaughter points out, when they cannot do the impossible.  Absolutely no one, woman or man, can have everything or do it all.  So we have other people who need a very different kind of message, which kindly but frankly helps them acknowledge their limits and also reassures them that they have a choice.

For another, neither Slaughter nor Sandberg speak to my next point, except in passing:  Namely, they're women of privilege and achievement.  So while it may be easy for both to speak their minds, score of others have a tough go at it, not because they are afraid or unwilling, but because their situations, by necessity, prevent them for doing so.  The two ladies' messages can certainly resonate across the board, and offer that lift that someone may need to improve on her lot.  But privilege - in terms of economics or finances, status or position, education and experience - affords certain women avenues that are simply not available to those without it.  In brief, it's a socioeconomic divide that complicates this matter of gender inequality.

Finally, people may polarize issues, again such as Slaughter vs Sandberg, and they may choose their sides.  But that very point of dialogue is what bridges those issues, the two ladies, and ultimately the dilemma women face.  There are not always pat decisions or solutions to adversity in our lives.  The idea that all we're trying to life-balance is family and work is naive at best and erroneous at worst.  There can be such complications as a child with special needs, a parent who dies, or couples who divorce.  So one crucial piece of the dialogue is the importance of talking about these complications, which inevitably make life-balance rather easier than done.  Another crucial piece is the freedom to differ openly, to hear each other out, and to see where women are in relation to one another.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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